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Catching up with a friend

Last month I was catching up with a friend of mine. Sitting on the couch we chatted for sometime about our families and work. After a while she said: “Please let me share a story  about how I lost control of a project" 

What happened

Janet works as a team leader at a large school. One of her responsibilities is the development of her teachers. She is a people person and in addition to developing skills, she also considers the development of the person itself important. She had been in a transformational program for a year, when her principal unexpectedly quit her job. Suddenly she had to deal with a young new principal. 

Rick was a wonderful person and had a keen eye for the values and WHY of Janet's work. He was also willing to listen to the perspectives of the other staff members in the school.

That's great, but there's more to this story ...

Money is always tight within a school organization. Rick was willing to listen to his team leaders, but also had to be accountable to the board of directors. Soon Rick began to scratch more and more elements from the program.



Perspectives and Expectations

The more Rick was exposed to different views and opinions, the more conflicted and confused he became. He seemed to be unable to untangle the perspectives of Janet, and the expectations of the board. Let alone identifying his own values and beliefs. In the end, he chose to combine it all and please everybody.

The reality was... the cutbacks lead to a program that was lacking impact.

Janet felt the control slipping out of her hands and knew they missed a great opportunity to create solid ground for transformation. A journey that would have had a lasting and sustainable impact on the organizational culture.

Do you recognize this? How a project seems to change halfway through? Why do people have such a different perspective on the same situation?

Adult Development and different stages of meaning making

From his research Robert Kegan is talking about five different ways (stages) of meaning making. Different ways how people make sense of the world and their place in the world. These stages are: early childhood, self-sovereign, socialized, self-authoring and self-transforming form of mind.

On average people find themselves in one of the three middle phases. All are good, but one phase may be more suitable for certain roles within an organization than another.

Today let's talk about Socialized form of mind

In the previous Self-Sovereign stage, people are thinking quite black and white, limited options for every decision. A person with a Socialized form of mind starts to experience more shades of grey. They are free from being hostage of only their thoughts and believes. They have the ability to gain distance from themselves in order to see a bigger picture. And have the competence to take and value the perspectives of others.

There are limitations as well. People with a socialized mind can see the complexities of the world but can't yet do anything about it. What is not within their capability is coming up with own rules and perspectives. It's hard to believe that people who are not “experts” can have an opinion and set a course. A safe place for them is to adopt rules and perspectives that come from others.

Socialized vs Self-Authoring

From a theoretical point of view we could assume that a Socialized form of mind is not suited for the role and responsibilities in this example. Could this be different with a Self Authoring form of mind?

In general people in the Self Authoring stage are able to value the perspective of other people and also help to resolve opposing priorities. They are able to take their own beliefs and values more into account (and make them count) Metaphorically speaking people are getting behind the steering wheel and are able to set a course lead by an internal compass.

Think about your organization for a moment..

Socialized form of mind is sufficient in situations where the tasks are clear and well-defined. Where the hierarchy is obvious enough that a person who does not know what to do can simply turn to someone with more authority who will have the right answers.

Reality is more complex. Often people with a Socialized form of mind get promoted to leadership positions. For a lot of people well earned! but it does require another way of meaning making. New leaders can literally feel bombarded by the number of opposing ideas and perspectives. If not managed well, this can lead to paralysis, upward delegating or compromising where it should not.

Do you recognize this? What if you could benefit from having more Self-Authoring leaders in your organization? How would that look like?

Do you’ve got an idea how to develop more people towards this stage?


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Kind regards, the 360° Leadership team